WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A German who says he was kidnapped three years ago, held by the CIA and tortured for months in
Afghanistan on Wednesday sought an apology from the U.S. government and an explanation for his arrest.
“I want to know why this was done to me,” Khaled el-Masri, a 43-year-old German of Lebanese origin, said at a Washington news conference. “I would like an explanation and an apology.”
“The claim that this was a case of mixed identity is absolutely absurd,” he said. “They didn’t even accuse me of anything.”
The case has drawn worldwide attention to the U.S. “extraordinary rendition” policy, and Masri is suing former CIA Director George Tenet and several CIA employees. The lawsuit seeks at least $75,000 in damages but Masri has said he might settle for a simple apology from Tenet.
The case was dismissed by a lower court and is now before a U.S. appeals court. A federal judge in May agreed with the U.S. government that the case could risk national security by exposing secret CIA activities in the U.S. war on terrorism.
Ben Wizner, one of Masri’s lawyers who argued before the appeals court on Tuesday, said the case should not have been dismissed, partly because President George W. Bush has already acknowledged the existence of the secret CIA prisons.
“This case was not dismissed because of state secrets,” Wizner said. “This case was dismissed because the United States has succeeded in avoiding accountability.”
Masri’s case sparked outrage in Germany and prompted a parliamentary inquiry to find out what authorities might have known about U.S. renditions.
Washington has refused to comment specifically on Masri’s case, but Germany’s former Interior Minister Otto Schily said last week that the former U.S. ambassador to Germany told him about Masri’s arrest and said it had been a mistake.
‘MORTALLY AFRAID’ DURING DETENTION
Masri, who stood solemnly at a podium and recounted his detention in German in matter-of-fact manner, said he was abducted by Macedonian authorities on December 31, 2003, while on vacation. He said he was held prisoner in a Skopje hotel room for 23 days and beaten, stripped and mistreated.
He said he was then taken by members of a CIA renditions team and flown to Afghanistan, where he was held as a terrorism suspect for five months.
“I was mortally afraid,” he said. “The conditions I was confronted with in jail were not fit for humans.”
Masri said he was held in solitary confinement and deprived of sleep. He described the food as bits of chicken skin and bones mixed in water and said the drinking water was putrid.
Masri, who staged a hunger strike and lost 60 pounds in detention, said he was treated slightly better than others.
He said some people said they were left hanging by their arms, naked, in a cold room for days. A Tanzanian man in a neighboring cell said he was locked in a foul-smelling suitcase that made him vomit, Masri said. He said others spoke of having their heads pushed down and held under water.
Masri, who has six children, said he was flown to Albania on May 28, 2004, and dumped on the side of a road in the middle of the night.
Anthony Romero of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Masri, said the United States knew Masri was innocent two months before it released him.
“Here is a concrete example of a victim of the gross excesses of the Bush administration and its torture policy,” Romero said.
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